Sunday, December 14, 2008

Housing After Foster Care

One in five former foster children report experiencing homelessness after "aging out" of foster care.

Investing in housing programs for young people between 18-25 years old is an opportunity to offer hope and assistance to young people during the "launching period" of their lives.

It is also a financially savvy front-end investment.

How would you prefer that your tax dollars be spent?
Wouldn't you rather invest in these 25,000 young people aging out of foster care each year before they enter into situations of chronic homelessness, unwed pregnancy, unemployment and incarceration?

Doesn't it make more sense to intervene during their late-teens and early-20s, a time when young people have an open mind, high level of energy and are actively engaged in the process of directing their future lives?

Or would we rather wait now, and pay later? Left unchecked, the cycle will continue: 1 in 4 homeless adults is a former foster child.

Homeless shelters created for adults are not the answer
Young adults differ from the adult homeless population, because they have unique developmental needs. With encouraging support and timely resources, it is possible to empower young people and build them into future leaders.

Investing in a brighter future
Here are some examples of how states provide specialized services to effectively support young people in acquiring stable housing:

1. California:
- First Place Fund for Youth provides two-bedroom apartments in San Francisco, financial assistance to pay housing start-up costs, and monthly rental subsidies.

- Larkin Street Youth Services’ LEASE program has scattered site apartments for youth who have emancipated from San Francisco's foster care system.

- Orangewood Children's Foundation in Los Angeles has two residential apartment complexes with an on-site residential counselor. Youth pay rent on a sliding scale, according to their financial ability.

2. Colorado uses FUP funds to provide housing assistance to youth for a maximum of 18 months. The young person must be between the ages of 18‐21, have spent time in foster care on or after their 16th birthday and currently lack adequate housing.

3. Connecticut has a Community Housing Assistance Program that provides either site-based or scattered site apartments for youth age 17-21 who are transitioning out of foster care and into independent living. They require youth to account for forty productive hours per week, e.g. time devoted to classes, study, training, part-time work, internships, volunteer work, apprenticeships or counseling.

4. Delaware provides Life Lines Housing Programs which allow youth to stay in the program for 18 months to three years, depending upon their job status or educational enrollment status.

5. Illinois developed a Youth Housing Assistance Program that uses Chafee funding to provide housing assistance to young people in and from foster care between the ages of 17 - 21.

6. New Jersey provides a Shared Living Residence Rental Housing Program to acquire land, build housing or rehabilitate existing housing.

7. New York City Housing Authority offers a Section 8 Priority Code for young people aging out of the foster care system. This program provides Section 8 vouchers or public housing units.

8. North Carolina offers Transitional Housing Funds of up to $1,500 per year to help with room and board expenses.

9. Ohio has 88 counties - only three of which have developed youth housing programs:

- Daybreak's Milestones program for young people ages 17-21 provides housing, counseling, educational support and tutoring, employment-readiness and life skills training and two years of follow up.

- Lighthouse Youth Services provides a tiered housing system that allows room for temporary setbacks as young people transition to the adult world.

- Starr Commonwealth provides an independent living program called MyPlace, designed to help ease the transition to adulthood. Young people, ages 16 to 18, live on their own in one of 16 furnished apartments, and are provided with adult support.

10. Vermont offers a Housing Support Program for young people between the ages of 18-22. Qualifying youth receive a grant of up to $5,000 to cover housing and related expenses. They may also receive supplemental funds for college textbooks and lab fees.

As a New Year's Resolution, please think about how you can replicate one or more of these programs in your state....

Friday, December 05, 2008

If you need something, please ask in a timely, honest manner

The following blog entry represents a personal struggle that I have had this week. I am trying to learn from this experience and move forward.

I am always leading workshops and telling other people about defining their boundaries -- but this week was a reminder that I need to maintain my boundaries, too!

I'm trying to formulate:
1. Where are my boundaries when it comes to working with other foster care alumni? Particularly when they are in a state of immediate crisis.

2. What is my role as a leader within my state chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America?

3. How can I better handle situations like the ones I faced this week in the future?

Here are my ideas so far, in terms of communicating my expectations and boundaries to other people...

1. If you need something from me, ask.

Say: "Lisa, I need this: _________"
Tell me what you need, straight-out and give me a chance to say yes or no.

Please don't try to manipulate me.

Don't hint at what you need, and wait for me to figure it out. That disrespects me and it disrespects you. Because you are underestimating both of us.

What the hints mean are that:
- You don't think you are worthy of having your needs met
- You don't think that I care about you

And until you ask straight out and wait for my response, you won't have the chance to find out that neither one of your fears are actually true.

2. When you ask, please tell me the whole truth.

Think of it like a doctor. If you lie to a doctor about your symptoms, that doctor will not be able to diagnose you correctly.

I am not a doctor. I cannot be your counselor. But I can and will move heaven and earth to get you connected with the right resources - something I CAN'T do if you are lying to me.

Please don't lie to me about what is really happening. Don't shade the truth about what is going on. I am guessing you are doing that because you think that I will judge you - and yes, again, you fear that I will reject you.

3. If you need something, please don't wait until it is catastrophe level.

Again, I know WHY you are probably doing this. So many of us grew up in chaos, that we just get used to living in crisis level. Once we age out of foster care, crisis still seems very familiar.

So, during the steps before a crisis, when things are just starting to go wrong, we might not think to ask for help then. No, we think we can handle it.

We can handle problem A and B and C... Which means that by the time we ask for help, we are handing the other person an enormous, HUGE amount of problems that have snowballed.

And the message to the other person (or in this case: to me) is "Fix this now. Fix this fast."

Trying to help would have been a lot easier if I'd been asked earlier.

4. When you ask, think about WHEN you are asking.

I can honestly say that: I am no longer addicted to crisis.

In my life, I have worked very hard to achieve stability and safety, not just for myself, but for my marriage and my family.

Do you really need to call me after midnight? Could you call during the daytime?

When you text me at 3 in the morning, are you really expecting that I am staying up all night?

5. I am your friend, but I am not your Savior

And again, this line has been blurred for me before.

When I first aged out of care, there was this guy, Jon. And he was the first person who really seemed to care about and take care of me. We were friends, we dated, we broke up, etc.

But at the time, I had somehow endowed Jon as being my Savior. The big brother I never had. The dad who didn't care for me. He was somehow supposed to fill that entire hole in my heart and make up for everything that I lacked.

And that is WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY to much to ask from another person.

But even after we parted ways, I still kept that guy on a pedestal for years. No one else could measure up.

Finally, I realized that I never even really knew Jon. The real Jon was just a human, fallible, feet-of-clay guy with his own dreams, desires, faults and failings.

But the Jon I knew somehow existed in my mind to help me.

When I figured that out, I regretted the unfair demands that I had subconsciously placed on him.

None of us exists to SAVE everyone else.
We are not building a community of Rescuers.

Hopefully, we can build a community that supports one another, and encourages our members to each take individual responsibility to grow and heal and become more empowered.

And as for me as a leader, as a result of this painful learning experience week, I am seeking to partner with local mental health professionals, so that I can make timely referrals when faced with situations that are over my head in the future.